RiverLink toll gantry

A RiverLink toll gantry

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- An Indiana woman is seeking class-action status for a federal lawsuit that claims she and perhaps thousands of other drivers were improperly billed after crossing the RiverLink toll bridges.

Melissa Barker of Noblesville, Ind., alleges the companies that manage the toll network between Louisville and Southern Indiana “routinely” failed to send drivers their first bill, which allows payment without a late fee. Instead, she argues, a second invoice that charges a $5 penalty arrived first.

The lawsuit says the practice is “widespread” and contends the firms have “inappropriately charged motorists penalties as part of a scheme with the intent to defraud and mislead, and/or have otherwise failed to cure their misconduct…”    

Barker sued Kapsch TrafficCom USA Inc., which Kentucky and Indiana state governments hired in 2015 to operate RiverLink, and its billing subcontractor, Gila LLC, in February. The case was moved from Marion Superior Court to U.S. District Court in Indianapolis in March.

The previously unreported lawsuit focuses on a billing issue RiverLink officials acknowledged in fall 2017, when at least 13,000 drivers were sent incorrect invoices. Some of those faulty bills were blamed on a computer glitch, but officials said the problems were fixed.

Among other claims, Barker says Kapsch and Gila violated the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, intentionally made “false statements that prior invoices and notice had been sent” and didn’t carefully invoice her and others.

Kapsch and Gila have asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. They claim any fees Barker paid were waived or credited to her more than a year before she filed suit. The companies also dispute her argument that they received “unjust enrichment,” noting that Kentucky and Indiana  governments receive all toll revenues and fees.

Barker’s attorneys have until November 25 to formally ask U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark J. Dinsmore to certify the lawsuit as a class action, allowing others to join. They believe “hundreds or even thousands of motorists who were wrongfully assessed administrative penalties and fees without notice” could ultimately be part of it.

Jacob R. Cox, an Indianapolis attorney representing Barker, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The suit is seeking unspecified damages and a jury trial.

The case also threatens to involve politically-appointed members of Kentucky and Indiana boards that monitor the toll network and its revenue, as well as government officials with oversight roles.

Representatives of the Indiana Department of Transportation, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the Indiana Finance Authority and the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority are among the witnesses Barker’s attorneys indicate could be called at a trial.

A Kapsch spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. The company’s Indianapolis-based lawyer did not return a voicemail seeking comment.

Gila, which does business as Municipal Services Bureau and operates an Austin, Texas-based call center, declined to comment.

Kentucky and Indiana transportation agencies declined to comment.

The states began charging drivers to cross three Ohio River bridges in 2016. Branded as RiverLink, the toll spans include the Interstate 65 Kennedy and Lincoln bridges between downtown Louisville and Jeffersonville, Ind.; and the upriver Lewis and Clark Bridge that connects eastern Jefferson County, Ky., and Utica, Ind.

Instead of toll booths, cameras and scanners on the spans identify license plates and pre-paid transponders. Drivers without accounts are billed by mail.

Barker claims she used the toll bridges on June 29 and June 30, 2017, then received a mailed invoice dated August 19, 2017. That invoice was a second toll notice and included a $5 late fee, which isn’t permitted on an initial bill, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says she crossed the bridges again on September 4 and November 26, 2017 and similarly got a second notice for those trips on January 16, 2018. She maintains she didn’t receive a first notice for any of the crossings in 2017.  

Barker’s lawyers have asked Gila for proof that all toll notices were sent and documents showing that any toll bills weren’t sent, in addition to identifying all cases in which someone didn’t receive a first toll notice. 

Gila objected to the requests, which are being done as part of the lawsuit’s fact-finding process known as discovery, court documents show. On August 30, Judge Dinsmore overruled those objections and wrote in an order that Gila had “advanced numerous boilerplate objections without the necessary specific explanations to support them.”

He has ordered the discovery to be done by November 8.     

Late fees have helped RiverLink surge past its toll collection goals, accounting for about 13 percent of all revenue during the fiscal year that ended in June. The fees made up about 10.6 percent of toll collections the year before, or about $10.2 million.

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825, mgreen@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.